Burton H. Wolfe / The Monopolization of Monopoly: The Story of Lizzie J. Magie — 1976

From: School of Cooperative Individualism Library

The Monopolization of Monopoly

The Story of Lizzie J. Magie

Burton H. Wolfe

[Reprinted from: The San Francisco Bay Guardian,
1976]

On March 23, 1903, Lizzie J. Magie, a young Quaker woman living in
Virginia, applied to the US Patent Office for a patent on a board game
she had invented as an easy, fun-filled method of teaching the evils
of land monopolism. Lizzie Magie was an ardent follower of the single
tax movement originated by Philadelphia-born Henry George, who began
preaching in San Francisco circa 1869 that the economic rent of land
and the unearned increase in land values profited a few individuals
rather than the majority of the people, whose very existence produced
the land values. He therefore advocated a single tax, on land alone,
to meet all the costs of government. He thought this would erode the
power of monopolies to suppress competition, and equalize
opportunities.

That was all heady, abstractly theoretical stuff for plain working
folks to comprehend. So, Lizze Magie decided to teach it through her
playtime invention, which she called “The Landlord’s Game.”
She got her patent on January 5, 1904. It’s registered as number
740,626 in the US Patent Office. Copies of the original game board are
still available.

The board for Lizzie Magie’s game bears a striking resemblance to the
one now labeled “Monopoly”, except that names, drawings,
colors and the like are different. It is painted with blocks for
rental properties such as “Poverty Place” (land rent $50), “Easy
Street” (land rent $100) and “Lord Blueblood’s Estate ”
(“no trespassing – go to jail”). There are banks, a
poorhouse, and railroads and utilities such as the “Soakum
Lighting System” ($50 for landing on that) and the “PDQ
Railroad” (“fare $100”). And of course there is the
well known “Jail” block.

The properties on Lizzie Magie’s board were for rent only, not
acquisition. Otherwise, the game was played much like the Monopoly of
today.

You might not think so if you read and compared only the rules
introductions to Lizzie Magie’s and Parker Brothers’ games. Lizzie
Magie’s reads like this:

“The object of this game is not only to afford
amusement to players, but to illustrate to them how, under the
present or prevailing system to land tenure, the landlord has an
advantage over other enterprisers, and also how the single tax would
discourage speculation.”

But the introduction to Parker Brothers’ Monopoly reads approximately
like this (depending on the year of your set):

“The idea of the game is to buy and rent or sell
property so profitably that one becomes the wealthiest player and
eventually monopolist… The game is one of shrewd and amusing
trading and excitement.”